Today’s prompt for Wyrd & Wonder is #TropeTuesday: With Friends Like These – enemy to ally or otherwise unreliable allies, and backstabbing best friends. This made me think of The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood, which I read earlier this year and just hadn’t gotten around to reviewing. In fact, reviewing this book I making me want to throw out my current TBR and just reread this one!
This book features a great enemies to unreliable allies, and it certainly kept me on my toes, wondering who might mess up meticulous plans for the chance to gain the advantage over the other. This was just such a brilliant story, so without further preamble, here is why you should read The Unspoken Name.
What if you knew how and when you will die?
Csorwe was raised by a death cult steeped in old magic. and on her fourteenth birthday, she’s destined to climb a mountain – to sacrifice herself at the Unspoken One’s shrine. Yet even as she prepares for death, a sorcerer offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become his thief, spy, and assassin. Together, they could topple an empire, and help him re-establish control. However, Csorwe will discover that gods remember. She may learn to live on a knife-edge, gaining skills and power. But friends can turn to traitors. And if you live long enough, all debts become due.
First of all, the world of A.K. Larkwood’s debut is unlike any other I have encountered. You may guess that from the map, which at first had me very confused, but quickly started making sense as I read on. It is comprised of different worlds -possibly different planets- that are joined together by Gates, which are portals that allow people to travel between them. The cool thing about the Gates, though, is that travelling through them does not simply involve stepping into one and out through the other side. Each Gate is connected by the Maze of Echoes, a sprawling, eery place with no life.
‘They stood on a ledge above the place where a steep valley dropped away, down and down, out of reach of light. Pillars and arches of rock massed in the darkness, like misshapen brides, veiled and wreathed with mist. Fragments of sky like pieces of eggshell were visible in places, though not the places one usually saw the sky.’
This is from the first time Csorwe travels through the Maze, as she escapes her appointed sacrifice with sorcerer Sethennai. From there, the two travel to Grey Hook, where Csorwe becomes educated in languages, weaponry, and spy skills. I wasn’t sure what to expect at this point, with a 14-year-old character, but there are time jumps and within a few chapters Csorwe has grown, and has become a strong young woman. She is probably one of my current favourite characters; she is from Oshaar, where people have grey-tinged skin and tusks that grow as they mature, which sounds very cool to me. And when she becomes a warrior Csorwe cuts her hair short, and is essentially peak butch, and I’m obsessed with the look, especially when it includes a cool face-scar. She’s just a badass queer warrior, and I’m here for it. She’s also impulsive and stubborn, and so even with her competence things can do wrong.
Add to this Talasseres, a young man who also comes into Sethennai’s services, and we have a recipe for disaster. Talasseres is the unreliable ally, who works with Csorwe because they’re both employed by the same man, but neither of them is happy about it and they will try to undermine the other at every turn, and if a chance came to leave the other behind, they would probably take it. But when things take an unexpected turn and events culminate, will they come together to save something greater than themselves?
I could say so much more about this book. It is so much more than I expected and it took me for quite the ride, but one thing I’ll say is that it includes one of my favourite things: great gods that are tangible and vengeful and point to greater mysteries in the universe. There’s something about these vast and incomprehensible forces in fantasy and sci-fi that I absolutely adore, and The Unspoken Name certainly has that. I can’t wait to see what comes of the sequel, The Thousand Eyes, and what further shenanigans Csorwe and Talasseres might find themselves in.
Published: 20th February 2020 by Tor
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Pages: 560 (paperback)
Series: The Serpent Gates, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple narrators
Format read: paperback
Copy owned: yes
Trigger Warnings: violence, emotional manipulation, blood, death, torture, confinement